Beware of World Health Organization scientists bearing Greek letters. What happens when the Greek alphabet runs out? Or will Omicron prove to be the end - in whichever way it all ends, the virus, that is? For the tourism industry, the end had certainly been in sight. But then came the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, and it was a destructive letter at that, so it seems.
A Greek letter, disguising a virus variant, is hardly the type of gift wished for at Christmas. Rather than WHO experts, wise men from the Orient are supposed to bear golden gifts and herald the festive season. But the wise, from wherever, were hastily reappraising their Christmas travel regulations.
All you want for Christmas is a voucher for a PCR test.
A week ago, the ACAVe association of specialised travel agencies was holding a travel market in Malaga. There were optimistic forecasts for the Constitution holiday, Christmas and New Year. Although bookings were still well down on 2019, optimism was in the air because of increased reservations. A week later in Malaga and on the Costa del Sol, the mood had changed. It was those scientists and their Greek letter.
Cancellations were coming, but the tourism industry in Andalusia was clinging to the belief - with justification - that the national market won’t start cancelling. As has been the case often enough for the tourism sector during the chaotic past months, if there is hope, it must lie with the Spanish tourist.
In Mallorca, where the December holiday period is in any event reliant on national and Balearic tourists, things were holding up in the select enclaves of the island where there is something approximating a low season - Palma and its Playa, basically.
The Balearic government, which with due fanfare had celebrated the elimination of port and airport controls for national travellers at the end of October, was silent on their reintroduction, unlike in the Canaries where, two months down the line, they made a comeback on Wednesday.
High season in the Canaries, there was greater concern because of the Spanish government’s insistence on British children between the ages of 12 and 17 having been vaccinated - and at least 14 days for the complete course prior to arrival.
Jorge Marichal, the president of the Ashotel hoteliers association in Tenerife, observed that this requirement “endangers family bookings for the Christmas period”. It is obvious, he added, that adults will not leave their children behind, if these children haven’t had the full vaccination schedule. Indeed not, unless the adults do plan on leaving the kids at home and letting them watch reruns of ‘Home Alone’ over the Christmas period.
Nevertheless, they were still trusting in being able to knock out average occupancy rates of around 72% over December, which was rather more positive news than that for shareholders in Spain’s tourism businesses.
Melia was down 13%, IAG by 22.5%. Spain’s stock market has suffered the biggest monthly fall since March 2020, which you will recall - how can any of us forget? - was when this all started.
The end was meant to be coming. And then came resort to the Greek alphabet. Again.